"Decolonizing D&D"

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
if the dungeons are tombs it would be helpful to know exactly whose
True. Then again, that's plausibly not known. In fact it now occurs to me that for "from 20,000 to 5,000 years ago the daelkyr ruled Xen'drik" (made up Eberron-inspired line) one could say that's too much information, rather than too little. Compared to "daelkyr ruins exist, usually below giant ruins." without a pretense of even approximate dating.
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
Now obviously this doesn't completely rule out having some literal god-kings around anyway
You know, this is what Sauron and Morgoth *were*, though not obviously so until the Silmarillion was published. Bit odd that I don't know of more fantasy with similar things; first thing that comes to mind is Orcus, the overthrown demon-king of Empire of the East. Second might be Rad/Etienne in Glantri, though he's more of a power-behind-the-Parliament. Usually your dark lord is some powerful wizard-type, not a fallen angel or demon or tax-farming dragon.

One thing I've found unlikely is how little racial mixing there is in fantasy settings. I don't mean having elf and dwarf quarters of a human town, or vice versa. I mean elves or other long-lived beings ending up as kings of other races. You'd think it would happen some of the time, and then they'd accumulate via not dying, especially in a setting where competent kings can avoid getting killed in battle. I think you could plausibly have a setting where most kings over humans were elves, not from colonization or conspiracy (though there might be theories about that!) but simple statistics. Ambitious humans become monarchs and spawn dynasties which last 300 years if they're very lucky; ambitious elves become monarchs and simply outlive any human dynasty.

(And again, elf could be replaced by dragon, vampire, demon, wizard who got around aging, etc.)
 

Skaorn

Registered User
Validated User
Part habit, part the fact that pre-modern socieites were in fact dominated by monarchies of some sort, absolute or otherwise. Republican city-states aren't that rare in fantasy. The tech level *could* have an early-US federal republic, but people don't go for it.

Part of which may be the personal influence you can have with an aristocracy and individual decision-markers.

An interesting question! Though perhaps an easy answer is "less conflict", making it less interesting. Hard to have a civil war if a god steps in for the winner! The Twelve Kingdoms has Heaven both picking kings and punishing them if they go to war; it's an interesting world, but a bunch of stories are ruled out.

False premise: gentry didn't depend on empire, just on owning lands, or for the smaller 1800s gentry, government bonds. It's just standard wealth inequality. Plus Tolkien hobbits had both farmers and militia, and the gentry we see do their own housework.
I wasn't looking for answers to those questions, just giving examples of questions people might ask when world building. From what I've read in this thread, there still seems to be a trend of falling back on mirroring "real life" in fantasy. It's a problem I've had with fantasy for a while that there seems like a lot that avoids taking risks or trying anything new. Fantasy should be about running with whatever you come up with rather than sticking to some formula. Its okay to try to go harder historical if that's what you want to do, like GoT, but there you still have the wacky element of how seasons work. Still there is a lot of other interesting things from myth and folklore that tend to get left on the floor like people visiting from kingdoms on the moon or trying to spring a dead friend from the Underworld with no magic necessary. I think this stagnation is a reason why we see a lot of Eurocentric settings that have a lot of unintended colonial baggage. I think asking questions like "what would the setting look like if it had X modern innovation", "what effect does having gods that actually show up have", or even simple things like "why does North have to be cold and South hot" helps step out of the rut of "traditional" fantasy. I figured governments were a good example that highlighted this; as not only do settings tend to be light on other older governments styles like democracy, but why not have Orcs starting a communist revolution against the dark lord in a game setting?

Some of my own recent ideas: gun magic that uses nature magic instead of arcane or divine magic, Gnomes coming from another solar system in a generational colony ship, and Elves based off of war boys from Fury Road whose "immortality" is based on gaining their gods' attention and keeping them entertained (50 years being the average life span for those living a quiet life).

As for the Tolkien question, gentry was not the best word but it was easier than "the quiet pastoral lifestyle that an English country boy leaves behind when he goes to war and is not the same when he comes back scarred from his experiences" that was the Shire. Would the Shire's militia have actually been able to stand up against any of the actual powers in the setting if they took an interest in the territory?

Yay insomnia ramblings...
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
From what I've read in this thread, there still seems to be a trend of falling back on mirroring "real life" in fantasy.
Combination of being able to copy-paste and a version of scholastic geek-ness comparable to the people who won't let you get away with making guns work the same as crossbows.
"why does North have to be cold and South hot"
"Why do you have to have a globe?" I've been wanting to do a setting set on the wall of a cosmic-scale cave, and by necessity the justification for varied climate becomes "Hell if I know. Fairies."
 

ezekiel

Follower of the Way
Validated User
Re: "The Pirates Deities Who Don't Do Rule Anything," I suspect a portion of it is that interventionist good deities usually have explicit rules about not deciding how others live their lives (even super lawful ones: Bahamut prefers building people up so they can fight their own battles). FR may have its awful elements, but at least there it's an explicit overriding command: Ao does not permit deities to simply rule over mortals, and the fact that they had been de facto doing so, even without explicitly taking up god-monarch status, is what kicked off the Time of Troubles. So that's FR's stuff out of the way. And PoLand has the simple out of the Ban that the Primal Spirits put up--the gods can't directly intervene in the world, without some Serious Exceptions/Special Cases, because they're literally not allowed to.

As to why exactly that happens...well, I think for much the same reason that 13A pretty much excises deities entirely, making them setting-dressing only. Deities are too powerful to be actively participating in a D&D-like narrative. While you aren't guaranteed to get Greco-Roman style deities whose behavior is frankly idiotic at times (see: Aphrodite and Psyche, Hera and Heracles, Poseidon and Odysseus) or simply arbitrary (....see all three aforementioned protagonists), a lot of myths that have lots of active, personal deity involvement go straight into "this only works because it has an author able to make up powers/restrictions/rules on demand." Even the mythologies where the line between powerful people and outright gods is thin to nonexistent (e.g. Irish, Welsh, or Hindu), when people with a ton of power get involved it tends to warp the narrative around them. So, for a game ostensibly about relatively mundane people rising to heroic heights, having out-and-out deities involved is just...not very useful as a literary element. And thus it doesn't get included, whether or not it might make world-building sense.

I wasn't looking for answers to those questions, just giving examples of questions people might ask when world building. From what I've read in this thread, there still seems to be a trend of falling back on mirroring "real life" in fantasy. It's a problem I've had with fantasy for a while that there seems like a lot that avoids taking risks or trying anything new. Fantasy should be about running with whatever you come up with rather than sticking to some formula. Its okay to try to go harder historical if that's what you want to do, like GoT, but there you still have the wacky element of how seasons work. Still there is a lot of other interesting things from myth and folklore that tend to get left on the floor like people visiting from kingdoms on the moon or trying to spring a dead friend from the Underworld with no magic necessary. I think this stagnation is a reason why we see a lot of Eurocentric settings that have a lot of unintended colonial baggage. I think asking questions like "what would the setting look like if it had X modern innovation", "what effect does having gods that actually show up have", or even simple things like "why does North have to be cold and South hot" helps step out of the rut of "traditional" fantasy. I figured governments were a good example that highlighted this; as not only do settings tend to be light on other older governments styles like democracy, but why not have Orcs starting a communist revolution against the dark lord in a game setting?

Some of my own recent ideas: gun magic that uses nature magic instead of arcane or divine magic, Gnomes coming from another solar system in a generational colony ship, and Elves based off of war boys from Fury Road whose "immortality" is based on gaining their gods' attention and keeping them entertained (50 years being the average life span for those living a quiet life).

As for the Tolkien question, gentry was not the best word but it was easier than "the quiet pastoral lifestyle that an English country boy leaves behind when he goes to war and is not the same when he comes back scarred from his experiences" that was the Shire. Would the Shire's militia have actually been able to stand up against any of the actual powers in the setting if they took an interest in the territory?

Yay insomnia ramblings...
I mean, I certainly do some of this myself, even with my above "pick bits and pieces from real cultures" things. For example, an idea I really love is that dragonborn are actually from the distant future: their magitech colony ship was a last-ditch effort to escape a horrible future cataclysm, but their calculations were just the tiniest bit off so the ship crashed rather than landing correctly. Their numbers are small, but they're widely feared because they have powerful magitech weapons and gear. However, they don't have the infrastructure to support wide use of their powerful tech/magic, and they're so used to futuristic living conditions that they have a rough go of things at first and need to keep most of their people in cryo-storage until they have a colony properly set up. That means diplomacy with the locals, which they have a natural talent for by design (the colonists were specifically selected for their skills with sorcery, engineering, armed warfare, and diplomacy to try to avert the horrible future by creating a peaceful, well-ordered society where the conflicts that gave rise to that future never happened in the first place.)

But when the goal is simply "be less narrowly Central/Northern European Medieval-Renaissance Hybrid With Magic Kingdom Legal system," sometimes just getting those basics--like trying to emulate Golden Age Islam and the feel of Arabian Nights tales, or having a Polynesia-like culture and a Han Dynasty China-like culture with the duelling notions of animism/hero-god stuff and wuxia--is already a big change for people. While for you this may feel like "avoid[ing] taking risks or trying anything new," for people whose experience has been confined to pseudo-Tolkienesque semi-Medieval faux-European settings every single time, merely having a non-European culture IS "trying something new." It's a connoisseur-vs-neophyte problem.
 

vitruvian

Registered User
Validated User
True. Then again, that's plausibly not known. In fact it now occurs to me that for "from 20,000 to 5,000 years ago the daelkyr ruled Xen'drik" (made up Eberron-inspired line) one could say that's too much information, rather than too little. Compared to "daelkyr ruins exist, usually below giant ruins." without a pretense of even approximate dating.
Well, that depends on a few things. True, folks studying this in a D&D world may not have scientific archaeology and paleontology with carbon dating and theories about what it means to find artifacts and remains in different strata, but they do have races of people with life spans topping seven centuries (more for certain species of awakened tree and other oddball sapients), who might have been able to maintain a continuous oral or written history or tradition even over millenia, as well as spells such as Commune, Legend Lore, etc. for gaining definitive answers, or such as Astral Projection, Imprisonment, Sequester, etc. for Buck Rogers-like century hopping by individual witnesses to history. It might still do to be a little more vague with timelines even so, but consider - even without time hopping via certain spells, a wood elf Archdruid who got to 18th level in their second century could be over five millenia old now and still going strong, a high level Oath of the Ancients Paladin could have lived even longer than that, and that's before you get into testimony from intelligent undead, ancient dragons, treants (who presumably live as long as their tree types), and other such beings, to the extent that you can trust their testimony.
 

LordofArcana

Registered User
Validated User
Even the mythologies where the line between powerful people and outright gods is thin to nonexistent (e.g. Irish, Welsh, or Hindu), when people with a ton of power get involved it tends to warp the narrative around them. So, for a game ostensibly about relatively mundane people rising to heroic heights, having out-and-out deities involved is just...not very useful as a literary element. And thus it doesn't get included, whether or not it might make world-building sense.
It isn't like high-level adventurers don't warp the narrative around themselves either. D&D is odd because while the mechanics clearly show that high-level adventurers can have huge effects on the world, the settings generally don't include many, if any, examples of that actually happening. If the heroes of the past weren't saving the world, they seemingly weren't doing anything that has lasting consequences anywhere near what their levels would suggest.

Yes there is the "high-level characters are mostly canceling each other out" argument, but settings with high-level adventurers should be more dynamic than ones that only have lower level ones as actually canceling out what someone has done is really pretty difficult, and that is definitely not what we see.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
It isn't like high-level adventurers don't warp the narrative around themselves either. D&D is odd because while the mechanics clearly show that high-level adventurers can have huge effects on the world, the settings generally don't include many, if any, examples of that actually happening. If the heroes of the past weren't saving the world, they seemingly weren't doing anything that has lasting consequences anywhere near what their levels would suggest.

Yes there is the "high-level characters are mostly canceling each other out" argument, but settings with high-level adventurers should be more dynamic than ones that only have lower level ones as actually canceling out what someone has done is really pretty difficult, and that is definitely not what we see.
I see at least part of that problem being that published settings are assuming lots of heroes, as opposed to myth and story generally don't (and when you do it tends to be a big deal). Said settings are closer to superhero comic books (and maybe should be run as such).
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
Would the Shire's militia have actually been able to stand up against any of the actual powers in the setting if they took an interest in the territory?
Depends on the power? They fought off some attacking goblins, and kind of *were* the power of depopulated Eriador. At the other end, Gondor couldn't stand up to Sauron cracking it like a nut. But for Shire plausibility... there weren't any organized threats around.

"Why do you have to have a globe?" I've been wanting to do a setting set on the wall of a cosmic-scale cave, and by necessity the justification for varied climate becomes "Hell if I know. Fairies."
Reign has a setting set on the surface of two colossal statues. OTOH, I think for many people there's such a thing as too exotic. They want elves and magic, not thinking about what it's like to look up and see people living above you. There was a thread recently about needing the mundane to offset the exotic, not just be all exotic.

a wood elf Archdruid who got to 18th level in their second century could be over five millenia old now and still going strong, a high level Oath of the Ancients Paladin could have lived even longer
Huh, did 5e make it a lot easier to live a long time? In 3e it was really hard to escape one's natural lifespan, short of Reincarnate or maybe magic jar, and the latter was nerfed to take a lot of spell slots to keep going.

to the extent that you can trust their testimony.
Or can even obtain it.

settings with high-level adventurers should be more dynamic than ones that only have lower level ones as actually canceling out what someone has done is really pretty difficult, and that is definitely not what we see
OTOH settings with high level adventurers run into the Elminster problem.
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
Reign has a setting set on the surface of two colossal statues. OTOH, I think for many people there's such a thing as too exotic. They want elves and magic, not thinking about what it's like to look up and see people living above you. There was a thread recently about needing the mundane to offset the exotic, not just be all exotic.
I tend to think a certain number of people underestimate this factor, just like they don't get why magic or dragons is okay for people but too exotic a society isn't.
 
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